This series addresses the communications technology needs across all industry segments and for all types of employees except those in contact center roles – a special case that is well covered in other No Jitter posts.
We have examined seven usage profiles in this series: field sales and services roles, production roles, retail customer-facing roles, information processing roles, collaboration roles, management and executive roles, and administration roles. Each usage profile review highlighted the unique communication requirements for the role and showed that those usage profiles are usually best served by communication functions built into or integrated with purpose-built software apps.
Now, we turn to the one common set of communication technologies that underpin all seven usage profiles. Let’s call this set the Universal Usage Profile. Since all employees make use of the technologies comprising the Universal Usage Profile, let’s go right to descriptions of each those technologies.
Universal Usage Profile Technologies – Shared, Common, Essential
Universal Usage Profile technologies are assumed to be present in the enterprise, to enable common functions and to support the more specific usage profiles. The most common of these technologies are:
• Network Infrastructure: The core of all communications technologies is the network on which those technologies depend. While this was once simply copper wire pairs and trunks connections, today’s networks are a blend of the copper wire plant; the enterprise IP network; multiple carrier network connections – analog, digital telephony (e.g. T1/E1 type), Internet Protocol gateways; and wireless networks (e.g., cellular or radio-based).
Where the network is shared with other uses, especially the data uses of the IP network, voice and video communications are often segmented via virtual network configurations to assure both the quality of the real-time voice/video/sharing and the security between the various network connections.
While it is easy to think of all enterprise communications moving to the IP network, that is seldom possible due to the need for the reliability that is intrinsic to the copper wire plant or due to the inability or impracticality of installing sufficient new IP infrastructure in older buildings where upgrade potential is limited by access or asbestos concerns (e.g. often a factor on university campuses).
• Shared Devices and Safety Access: The enterprise must provide accessible technology for:
- Common spaces including phones for lobbies, hallways, break rooms, storage areas, elevators, etc.
- Public spaces such as the blue-light stations for parking areas and garages, outdoor campus areas, etc.
- Guest Internet access via shared phones (maybe the same as the common spaces devices) and Wi-Fi access either via the enterprise Wi-Fi network or a via a dedicated service for security reasons.
- Safety services including access for E-911 and other emergency situations, paging systems and speakers, mass notification systems, spark-free telephones for volatile environments, etc.
• Meeting Technologies: Employees must be supported with a commonly understood set of meeting technologies. This is typically the enterprise’s selection of an online meeting and conferencing system running on the IP network, with connection options for telephone-based callers or mobile app users. As NoJitter readers, we are well aware of these technologies with brands such as Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, Zoom, et al. who offer meeting and conferencing platforms, as well as with the conferencing solutions offered by traditional PBX providers such as Avaya, Mitel, and others.
Of course, we also see these real-time meeting and sharing options being built into the applications used in the seven specific usage profiles. For example, almost all of the collaboration software providers such as Slack or Atlassian have voice/video/sharing options for their users. Similarly, we see some very effective video communications options built into Electronic Health Record (EHR) systems both for communication within the care provider team and increasingly for video appointment with patients.
The technologies of the Universal Usage Profile also include the various end-point devices, in particular for meeting rooms ranging from huddle spaces to board rooms. Many of the advances in meeting technologies depend on the advanced cameras and microphone arrays of these specialized devices, which requires care in selection of the devices — and that usually requires matching the devices to the selected meeting platform. This need for compatible devices is a very important factor in the selection of the meeting technology vendor and is often the reason to make a single enterprise-wide meeting technology vendor choice.
The meeting technologies component of the Universal Usage Profile is currently one of the hottest segments of the enterprise communications marketplace. Much of the emphasis is driven by the need for remote work during the pandemic, but those circumstances only amplified this essential need for communication with all employees, within departments, and among workgroups and teams.
The emphasis in this category is also driven by the addition of adjacent communications technologies into the meeting platforms, as illustrated by Cisco, and Microsoft, and Zoom each adding traditional enterprise telephony functions to their meeting platforms. However, these adjacent communications technologies must be examined carefully to assure they meet the enterprise’s needs; usage profile reviews of these adjacent technology offerings is often one of the most important decision factors.
• Email, Chat, Social, and Web Communications: In addition, the Universal Usage Profile must either provide or co-exist positively with email, chat and social communications platforms that are used throughout the enterprise and, especially with email and web pages, for communication with customers and business partners.
While the enterprise communications department may not have direct responsibility for these communications methods, optimal service requires a cooperative and supportive relationship with those tools and with the other IT teams that manage those employee communications tools.
How to Proceed with the Universal Usage Profile
Historically, Universal Usage Profile technologies were the domain of the PBX and the telecom department. However, that historical world is long gone; communications has moved to IP networks and general purpose software platforms. This has significantly lowered the barriers to entry which has swamped the marketplace with offerings that each offer some innovative elements, but seldom are mature enough to serve the entire enterprise.
For this reason, we who are responsible for enterprise communications, especially for the Universal Usage Profile, are usually best served by choosing vendors who have the broadest proven set of capabilities, then working with those selected vendors to expand enterprise communications services through vendor enhancements and integration capabilities — and also through those selected vendors’ acquisitions. For examples, Avaya customers benefitted from Avaya’s acquisition of several audio and video conferencing companies; Cisco customers benefitted from Cisco’s acquisition of Webex many years ago, the integration of that platform with Cisco Communication Manager, and then acquisition of advanced AI-based analytics tools to enhance meetings; Microsoft customers benefited both from Microsoft’s acquisitions to build out the Microsoft 365 suite and Microsoft’s development of a robust partner network for audio/video device technologies, network capabilities such as session border controllers, carrier integrations, and interoperation with Microsoft Azure.
An optimal strategy may be based on the policy that new enterprise communication vendors will only be brought into the enterprise in those places where the existing vendors’ enhancements, integrations or acquisitions are not able to address the enterprise’s needs on a reasonably timely basis. Such a strategic direction requires a very proactive relationship with the operating units of the enterprise and with the other communications-related teams in IT, but can definitely pay off in terms of the overall communication service levels and the resulting productivity of the enterprise.
In the final post of this series next month, we will recap our review of usage profiles and suggest some best practices for their use. We wish you continued success as you serve your enterprises.